The ATM cave near San Ignacio in Belize is often said to be the one thing you need to do whilst in Belize. This is because it combines adventure alongside a look into history, all whilst maintaining a certain level of freedom you would not see outside of Central America. The combination of activities that you undertake whilst on the tour is why it is so popular; you get to swim, explore dark caves, climb, and see ancient Mayan artifacts and skeletons that are extremely well preserved.
The only problem with doing this tour (especially for a backpacker) is that the price of the tour ranges from $95-$125US depending on who you decide to go with. Once you decide to ‘take the leap’ so to speak, the tour drags you in and if you are in any way adventurous you will have an amazing time.
The day starts with a one hour ride at around 7am in a minivan to the site of the ATM cave. The guides tend to provide a bit of a backstory into how the caves came to be so important to Mayans (which we won’t spoil here), and a little bit of history on Belize itself. Once you reach the cave, you leave your cameras and bags behind (no photos are allowed in the caves after a woman dropped her camera onto a skull in the caves and broke it) and begin a short hike to the entrance.
The entrance to the ATM cave
The hike includes a few river crossings (depending on current water levels) before reaching the mouth of ATM. This is where the fun really begins as you switch on your headlamps and jump into the refreshing water!
You stay in the caves for approximately 3 hours, going about 1km into its depths. Expect to see many interesting things on the way to the Mayan burial site including bats, fresh-water crabs, fish, and interesting rock formations.
You will squeeze through small spaces and climb slippery rocks on your way to what is affectionately known as ‘the cathedral’ (la catedral), where there are hundreds of Mayan artifacts including many pots, scorched walls where fires once roared, and the human remains of past sacrifices.
The tour culminates upon reaching “The Crystal Maiden” – the remains of either a girl or boy (they still are not sure) that is almost completely preserved. This skeleton is kept behind a wire fence to stop people accidentally stepping on it, which has obviously occurred many times in these chambers.
After completing this portion of the tour, you then make your way back to the entrance of the cave and hike back to the car park for a well deserved lunch. The usual lunch of chicken, rice, and vegetables is served alongside unlimited rum punch or soda which is refreshing after all of the swimming and climbing. Showers and toilets are also provided so that you can change out of your wet clothes.
You then return back to San Ignacio to the centre of town by around 3:30-4pm, completing a fantastic day out!
These tours (alongside many others that are available in San Ignacio such as cave tubing) are easily booked in town upon arrival. We don’t recommend pre-booking as you will probably find cheaper pricing upon arrival. We booked our ATM cave tour with Mayawalk who had professional guides and provided an amazing service. Their tour was the cheapest in town at $95, but also came highly recommended by many hostels and guesthouses that we spoke with.
Here is some further information of what the tour entails and how to prepare yourself:
– Transport there and back (with commentary)
– A guided tour of the caves
– Water shoes (crocs)
– Helmet with headlamp
– Lunch after the tour (chicken, rice, and vegetables or a vegetarian option)
– Rum punch after the tour (or soda / pop)
What You Need To Bring:
– Adequate water for after the tour (although water is also included with lunch you will want some before then)
– Clothes that can get wet
– A spare pair of clothes
– Socks (you must wear socks only around the Mayan artifacts so as to not disturb the ground around them)
Have you done the ATM cave tour in San Ignacio before? Comment below or let us know your favourite thing to do in Belize!